Ihnatiev, Pavlo; Bovsunivskyi, Pavlo, 2015. SOUTH ASIAN POLICY OF THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA. Social and Human Sciences. Polish-Ukrainian scientific journal, 03 (07), pp. 8-25.
ПОЛІТИКА КОРОЛІВСТВА САУДІВСЬКА АРАВІЯ В ПІВДЕННІЙ АЗІЇ
УДК: 327 (4-015)
доктор політичних наук, професор,
Київський національний університет імені Тараса Шевченка (Україна, Київ),
кандидат політичних наук,
Київський національний університет імені Тараса Шевченка (Україна, Київ),
Стаття присвячена дослідженню особливостей політики Королівства Саудівська Аравія в регіон Південної Азії з урахуванням безпекових, економічних і політичних чинників, а також особистісних зв'язків. Автори аналізують двосторонні відносини Королівства Саудівська Аравія з Республікою Індія, Ісламською Республікою Пакистан, Народною Республікою Бангладеш і виокремлюють основні пріоритети зовнішньої політики офіційного Ер-Ріяда щодо них. Особлива увага приділяється обґрунтуванню інтенсифікації дипломатичної діяльності Королівства в Індії. Відносини Саудівської Аравії з Пакистаном аналізуються в контексті військового співробітництва та загрози іранської ядерної програми. Основною сферою відносин Саудівської Аравії та Бангладеш, що розглянута в статті, є врегулювання питання статусу некваліфікованої робочої сили з Бангладеш в Королівстві.
Ключові слова: Саудівська Аравія, Південна Азія, нафта, робоча сила, сільське господарство, поширення ядерної зброї.
SOUTH ASIAN POLICY OF THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA
Doctor of Political Science, Professor
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine, Kyiv),
Department of Country Studies,
PhD in Political Science
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (Ukraine, Kyiv),
Department of Country Studies,
The article is intended to explain the peculiarities of Saudi Arabia’s policy in South Asia taking into account security, economic and political considerations, as well as people-to-people ties. Authors analyze bilateral relations of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the Republic of India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the People's Republic of Bangladesh and single out basic foreign policy priorities of official Riyadh towards them. Special attention is paid to the rationale behind the intensification Kingdom’s diplomatic activity in India. Saudi Arabia’s ties to Pakistan are analyzed within a context of military cooperation and the threat of Iranian nuclear program. The main area of Saudi Arabia and Bangladeshi relations, which was also covered by the article, is the regulation of Bangladeshi blue-collar workers status in the Kingdom.
Key words: Saudi Arabia, South Asia, crude oil, workforce, agriculture, nuclear proliferation.
The research problem of article. Hindustan is strategic region situated not far away from Arabian Peninsula. After the decolonization of British India countries-successors mainly created mixed economy and and all of them, except Pakistan, supported close ties with a socialist camp. But break-up of the Soviet Union forced their political elites to take a closer look at Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia was most influential of them. Research steps explain the essence of official Riyadh’s aims in the region, the factors behind economic partnership with India, military alliance with Pakistan and mostly blue-collar workforce import from Bangladesh.
Analysis of previous publications. Indian, Pakistani and the Gulf news outlets along with sites of Ministries of foreign affairs were used as a main sources of information for the research. The scientific article of Khalid Nayef Al-Habbas, who provided important timetable of Indian - Saudi relations, was viewed by the authors . Also they paid special attention to the publication of M. K. Bhadrakumar, where he explains that new developments in Saudi-Pakistani relations are influenced by Syrian factor . The main research method is system approach, which helps to explore South Asian policy of Saudi Arabia as interconnected system of interests, resources and state aims, as well as their use via mechanism of foreign policy’s tools.
The aim of the article is to analyze national interests, priorities, needs of Saudi Arabia concerning biggest countries of South Asian region, as well as their implementation in Kingdom’s foreign policy.
The main body of the article. Conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has a set of priorities in South Asia: first – to provide the biggest in the world market of 1,65 billion people with oil and gas thus lessening dependancy on customers in crisis-prone Western Europe; second – to invite cheap and young workforce to vacant positions, where Saudi people unwilling or unable to work; third – to cooperate in protection of sea lines of communications for the safety of oil cargoes proceeding through Gulf of Aden and international waters near the coast of Somalia; forth – to buy foodstuff or lease productive land in India or Pakistan for Saudi farmers, because desert country does not have constant rivers and lakes; fifth – to have reliable supplier of nuclear weapon technologies in case of obtaining the weapons of mass destruction by Iran or at least to gain an access to the "Muslim nuclear bomb", which already Pakistan has; finally – to strengthen its influence among numerous Muslim community in the context of Kingdom’s aspiration to gain leadership in Islamic world. In this regard it should be mentioned that South Asian Islam believers constitute 40 per cent of world’s Muslim population .
On the other hand, South Asian countries are also interested in Riyadh’s activities in the region through delivery of the crude oil from the world second biggest oil reserves (after Venezuela’s) and investments in their economies from huge currency fund, which contains 739 billion dollars of reserves of foreign exchange and gold (third in the world after China and Japan), along with financial capabilities of private investment facilities . Muslim countries also expect and receive direct financial assistance from KSA and other aid through charitable projects, financing networks of madrasah, renovation and building of mosques, free distribution of Koran and other religious books.
Saudi Arabia is striving to develop relations with India as one of the biggest countries in the world with dynamic growth of GDP and considerable Muslim minority. After terrorist attacks of September 2001 and tensions with official Washington, caused by invasion to Iraq in 2003 and recently weakening of sanctions against Iran according to Geneva interim agreement in 2013, official Riyadh finally turned to the East and started to court India and China. Both countries demonstrated considerable economic successes with rising numbers of middle class representatives and were lucrative consumers of oil and gas. Simultaneously shale gas revolution in the USA diminished American strategic interests in the Gulf. The rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran in 2005, who ended entente with Saudi Arabia and tried to gain leadership in Muslim world, also forced conservative Kingdom to pay attention to giant Asian neighbors in order to influence them not to buy Iranian oil. In January 2006, King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud suddenly visited India with a first such trip by Saudi monarch since 1955 .
During the period of Cold war India supported USSR’s policy in Asia and maintained very close trade relations with Iraq, what caused concern in Saudi Arabia. Official Delhi also refused to condemn Moscow for occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. Saudi-Indian joint commission for economic, commercial, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation was established in 1981, but dealt almost exclusively with the issue of export of Indian workforce. Relations did not improve considerably in the ‘90s’ because of sudden rebellion in Kashmir valley in 1989, inconclusive policy of New Delhi during crisis in Kuwait, inspired by Saddam Hussain, demolition in Uttar-Pradesh by millions Hindu fanatics of XVI-century mosque Babri Masjid under which was a sanctuary of god Rama and by Indian attempts to establish ties with Israel following first success of Oslo process. Official Delhi also considered Riyadh an important ally of Pakistan and movement Taliban in Afghanistan. Indeed, in 1997 only Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan lent diplomatic recognition to medieval regime of Talibs while Delhi resolutely sided with Northern Alliance and Iran .
But in 2006 everything changed. King Abdullah was invited as the chief guest for India’s 57th Republic Day celebrations. His visit was very successful since a number of agreements have been signed. At the governmental level Saudi Arabia and India inked three treaties in addition to the memorandum of Understandings on Combating Crime. They were represented by Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and Agreement for co-operation in the field of youth and sports. Later four commercial deals were also signed including one by car maker “Tata Motors” to supply school buses worth 80 million dollars .
At the end of visit the two countries made public “Delhi Declaration”. It was for the first time that King Abdullah had inked agreement with any country since he usually signs only “proclamations”. Both sides noted that this visit defined a new era in India-Saudi Arabia relations and constituted a landmark in the development of increased understanding and co-operation along with creation of a mutually beneficial partnership. During his stay in Indian capital Saudi King also proposed to renovate famous Jama Masjid – the biggest mosque in New Delhi, but this initiative was not accepted by the hosts, what showed Indian reluctance to follow Kingdom in religion issues . Nevertheless, the importance of visit confirms such fact that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to the airport to see off the King, a move that has never been done to any VIP visitor to India . Indian accommodating behavior can be explained by signing of the USA - India nuclear deal along with subsequent decision of official Delhi to limit the purchases of Iranian oil and switch to Saudi “black gold”.
In 2010 Manmohan Singh flew to Saudi Arabia with reciprocal visit − he did so 28 years later after similar trip of Indira Gandhi. The “Riyadh Declaration”, unveiled by both parties, emphasized cooperation in the fields of exchange of information on terrorism, narcotics, arms and human trafficking, also urging them to develop the joint strategy to confront those threats. They signed the extradition treaty and agreed to elevate their relations to state of strategic partnership. Official Delhi suspected that many South Asian terrorists resided in Saudi Arabia, collecting funds for jihad in Kashmir valley and looking for recruits among young unemployed people. King Abdullah declared his willingness to extradite Indian citizens on the request from New Delhi, but not Pakistanis in order to sustain good relations with official Islamabad .
New level of political relations allowed both countries to improve trade interaction. In 2012, approximately 54 per cent of Saudi oil exports went to Asia, mainly to China, India, Japan and South Korea. Saudi Arabia is the 4th largest economic partner of India with trade volume of 43.19 billion dollars. Kingdom is supplying 25 per cent of Indian oil needs and ready to step up export of «black gold» in case of introduction of additional sanctions against Iran. The second distant trade partner is Iraq, because President Barak Obama forced India to lessen it’s dependency on traditional supplier Iran and economic interaction with Tehran is limited by banking sanctions.
Official Delhi has serious financial problems due to this, taking into consideration that Saudi Arabia accepts only American dollars, but isolated Iran willingly takes devaluated Indian rupees and agrees to sell oil for partial payments − 45 per cent in front and rest in a couple of years. Huge South Asian country daily imports around four million barrels of oil, but purely commercial relations with Saudi Arabia make this fuel very expensive . The first agreement, reached between Iran and major powers in November of 2013 concerning nuclear program, may change the situation in favor of official Tehran.
Since India depends on expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) import from Qatar, it is interested to buy natural gas from other suppliers, namely Saudi Arabia. This coincided with a new policy of Kingdom to develop gas fields because of high consumption of oil inside of the country. Saudi heavy use of «black gold» registered at daily level of 2.9 million barrels due to population explosion, cheap subsidized gasoline, electricity and water, received through energy-intensive desalinization, done by 30 plants.
The country possesses 4th biggest reserves of natural gas in areas of Red Sea, Eastern Province, Rub Al-Khali, but investment priorities of previous years made gas sector second-best in national economy due to easy availability of petrodollars . King Abdullah does not want India to participate in Iran-Pakistan pipeline via Balochistan to Western India and ready to sell its gas substantially cheaper than Qatar. MNC «Saudi Aramco» also supplies Indian consumers with chemicals, artificial resins, plastic materials and sulfur. This company intends to buy 30 per cent stake with a management role in a giant petrochemicals project in Gujarat in order to make India constantly dependant on Saudi oil. Kingdom is interested in building new refineries and petrochemical factories with considerable Saudi Arabian stake of ownership, as it did before in China .
South Asian country remains important supplier of agricultural goods to Saudi Arabia. West Asia accounts for a third of India's fresh vegetable exports and remains important market for rice and tropical fruits. Average consumption of rice by Saudi national is 43 kg per year. Therefore Indian share in import of this agricultural commodity to Kingdom is 63 per cent with the basmati rice considered the most important . Among other items are tea, buffalo and sheep meat, fresh and preserved fruits and vegetables, mango pulp, spices (especially chilli), medicines, iron and steel, garments.
This interdependency can be explained not only by relatively big population of Saudi Arabia, but also by presence of numerous South Asian communities from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sir Lanka, whose representatives traditionally show a strong preference for Indian goods. Kingdom is the biggest customer of food in the Middle East and will become even bigger with population explosion and lavish hand-outs from King to the middle class after the events of Arab Spring in Northern Africa, Yemen and Bahrain. On the other hand, Saudi organic chemicals, fertilizers and aluminium are in big demand in India .
Saudi Arabia is one of the leading consumers of Indian workforce. The conservative Kingdom traditionally provided jobs for the citizens of Arab countries as a sign of Islamic brotherhood and way to substitute direct assistance with indirect but profitable for itself. But after the invasion of Saddam Hussain to Kuwait in August of 1990 official Riyadh decided to lessen its dependency on unreliable and politically-active Palestinian, Egyptian and Yemeni workers, which openly supported Iraqi dictator, and to invite more people from English-speaking South Asian countries with young and dynamic Muslim population – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Today there are 7 million of Indian workers in the Gulf and 2.8 million of them temporary reside in Saudi Arabia, thus representing the biggest foreign minority in the country.
Many are residents of South India, with 40 per cent coming from Kerala (capital of Indian education and communist stronghold) and rest from Andhra-Pradesh and Karnataka. Around 70 per cent Indians belong to the category of blue-collar work force, but country also supplies highly skilled professionals – doctors, university professors, IT-specialists and even managers of sovereign funds. As a result, in 2012 out of 70 billons remittances to India 60 per cent came from the monarchies of Western Asia, among them − 8.4 billion were sent from Saudi Arabia. The periods when rupee is considerably depreciated witnessed highest transfers of remittances, because Indians are rushing en masse to buy consumer goods at cheaper price. On the other hand, there are many millions of so-called Gulf wives and children, who only rarely see their relatives because of their work overseas .
Saudi Arabia remains a country with relatively high level of unemployment, since 12 per cent of population is not working, including 26 per cent of women, despite the fact that many of them are highly educated. As a result, the Kingdom introduced the policy of Saudization in 1994, but it failed completely. Because of low salaries and issues of family honor many Saudi citizens were unwilling to work in the shops, as menial workers in hotels, as builders at construction sites, attendants in fast food chains, drivers, security guards or nurses in private houses.
The events of Arab Spring made local rulers apprehensive and forced them to go ahead with revolutionary policy of Nitaqat (classification of firms according to compliance with rules) in 2011, which demands that each private company should employ not less than 10 per cent of Saudi workers and places all those institutions in 4 categories according to blue, red, yellow and green colors. Companies in blue zone will have the right to recruit workers from yellow and red zone and enjoy 1 year grace period when worker’s visas expire, those in green area may count on assistance from the state in frequent renewal of visas and get six months grace period, but those in yellow and red area will be periodically inspected and fined, visas of their foreign workers will never be renewed and they are not allowed to expand their businesses or prevent their employees from changing jobs for more profitable ones .
The new rules can be a serious problem for Indians. Jobs vacancies in state sector are filled by locals, but private sector is heavily dependant on foreign workforce. Saudi Ministry of Labor states, that private companies provide employment for 6.5 million expatriates, compared with only 700.000 Saudis. Owners of businesses state own reasons behind this. First – Saudis are not used to work long hours and never attend their workplaces during holy Friday for religious reasons; second − their rights are duly protected by the state; third – it’s very hard to sack the citizens of the country without judicial difficulties especially if they in some way related to the Royal family, and finally – their salaries are three times higher than those of foreigners .
As a result, there are 300.000 companies that do not employ locals, taking into considerations the size of Indian community in the country, the representatives of it are first victims of the new policy, which is already visible in retail shopping. For many years Saudi Arabia failed to limit the arrival of foreign workforce, because of demand for cheap workers was high due to construction of new industrial cities in the desert, expansion of pilgrimage facilities of holy Mecca and Madina for image reasons, attempts to give priority to Green revolution in the countryside. As a result of this policy, around 86 per cent of foreign workers in the Kingdom are earning less than 2.000 Saudi Riyals .
Moreover, within measures of Nitaqat King ordered crackdown on illegal workers with deportations, heavy fines and even arrests for violators, especially those, who illegally stayed after Hajj or Umrah thus betraying his trust. In 2013 some 2 million workers received grace period of 7 months to legalize themselves and leave country without paying money for violations. Those, who will hide, will be jailed or deported without right to come back. According to the new labor policy, the Saudi government also will create a database of worker’s wages in order to monitor transfers of their money abroad. Monetary Agency will check the amount, which an expatriate sends to his home country, and simultaneously compare it to official wage .
Despite all this only small fraction of Indian workforce so far left Saudi Arabia. At the same time Kingdom extends facilities for Hajj and went on building spree because of urgent demand for high-end hotels in Mecca and for 2.4 million housing units in the countryside, thus creating new opportunities for Indian workers . Moreover, today most gifts for pilgrims in sacred city of Mecca are made by Chinese companies and India has an excellent opportunity to provide souvenirs of own artisans for shops, selling articles of faith.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia banned in 2013 domestic abuse, which can be considered as a part of progressive reforms, intended to improve human rights of local women, suffering from beatings, lack of mobility and poorly-paid domestic jobs. The people, who violate the law, should pay 13 thousand dollars and spend one year in custody. All cases of domestic abuse must be reported to the Ministry of Social Affairs or police . This will bring relief for the nurses and medical workers from South Asia, which suffered many years because of their abusive sponsors with some of them disappearing or even dying due to harsh treatment by the hosts, who frequently accuse servants of thefts, witchcraft or indecent behaviour. Several countries even threatened not to send women to Saudi Arabia due to the violence against their citizens, but Kingdom traditionally insisted that those irregularities were private matters of workers and their employers.
This sacred for Muslims land remains very important destination of religious pilgrimage for Indian Muslims, since this country has the biggest in the world Islamic minority with 180 million people. During Hajj of 2012 170 thousand of Indians visited Mecca and over 200 thousand performed Umrah. Some states of India even practice draw of lots in order to distribute places fairly. Many Indians, who know Hindi, Urdu or Bengali languages, provide assistance as aid workers for South Asian pilgrims near sacred city of Mecca . Hajj from South Asia is one of the crucial reasons behind the rise of national airlines in the Gulf, who cater Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pilgrims and also blue-collar workers.
The King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah is already one of the biggest in the world and “Saudi Airlines” use 29 wide-frame aircrafts Boeing - 777 with most of them intended for transportation of pilgrims. All other airlines have to pay 160 dollars for each Hajj passenger as a guarantee of his or her return after pilgrimage. “Saudi Airlines” are annually transporting 1.2 million pilgrims with most of them coming from biggest Muslim states Indonesia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh . Usually this company organizes flights from the list of several cities, and carriers of India – from another list. Moreover, Indian authorities are forced to buy SIM-cards of “Saudi Telecom” and distribute them for free among own religious travelers . The pilgrims from India also buy goods in the Kingdom, which are very expensive at home.
Apart from mutual economic interests, Saudi Arabia and India share some defense priorities. Several years ago both sides decided to conduct joint military exercises and Indian instructors agreed to train Saudi Arabian Special Forces on tackling terrorism in the mountainous areas bordering Yemen due to their vast experience in mountains of Kashmir. After 2009, when pirates abducted Saudi supertanker “Sirius Star” with a cargo of two million barrels of crude oil, official Riyadh began to pay considerable attention to maritime security. The involvement of Indian naval ships in combating piracy off the coast of Somalia since October 2008 considerably improved interaction with navies in the region . Both countries are among top 10 importers of weapons in the world and it is wise for official Delhi to engage Saudi Arabia in defense cooperation in order to save funds on expensive purchases of military hardware.
For India Saudi Arabia remains a cornerstone of her engagement with the Gulf. Today this region is of crucial importance for official Delhi, since it hosts seven millions of Indian workers and provides 60 per cent of country’s energy needs. It’s important to say, that the trade turnover in 2013 constituted over 180 billion dollars and development of economic ties with Kingdom may increase this number substantially .
In comparison to India, which only recently mended relations with official Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are long-standing allies, tested by the events of the Cold war. Wedged by hostile Iran and Iraq, rich Kingdom was unable to guarantee own security and invited the representatives of Pakistani armed forces as instructors and contract pilots of transport planes and fighter jets.
Many Pakistani citizens with military background also joined the ranks of the police in order to be ready to suppress inner dissent in eastern Shia - populated eastern regions of Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries. The pilots from Pakistan participated in war against Yemen in 1969. Moreover, their Saudi colleagues received training in Pakistani military institutions. Tens of thousand Sunni soldiers from Pakistan were deployed in the Kingdom in 1979 as a precaution against spreading Shia revolution from Iran. In 1974 both sides created Joint Commission in order to develop relations.
As a result of this countries exchanged high-level visits numerous times and official Riyadh traditionally supported Pakistan’s official position on issue of Kashmir .
Saudi Arabia reinforced this strategic alliance with petrodollars. In the 70-es Pakistan became the most important destination of Kingdom’s external assistance. The biggest marble mosque in South Asia in suburb of Islamabad was built with help of generous donation of 120 million dollars by King Faisal. Responding to the support, provided by Saudian side, Pakistan renamed in 1977 one of its major “textile” cities Lyallpur as Faisalabad in honor of Saudi monarch.
In the 1980-es the Kingdom supported Islamization program of General Zia ul-Haq, known under a nickname “Mullah in uniform” for his habit to pray many times in the mosques each day. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan Pakistan became a frontline state via which USA and Saudi Arabia provided money and weapons to mujahideen. Some of them were purchased from Egypt that decided to switch to American weaponry and to sell out Russian small arms. Moreover, port Karachi served as convenient stop for Saudi citizens travelling to Afghanistan in order to conduct jihad. In the 1980-es private Saudi contributors from Royal family created in different regions of Pakistan large-scale network of madrasah – basic religious schools for Afghan refugees and poor Pakistani people with emphasis on Koran and Arabic language. Those educational establishments were behind the rise of movement Taliban in 1994 in Pashtun lands of Pakistan and indoctrinated poor refugees from Afghanistan with radical Wahhabi ideology. At madrasah children were denied contact with the outside world and learned how to justify sectarian extremism .
Later Kingdom resolutely supported Pakistan in nuclear quest under slogan of attaining “Islamic bomb” with many observers holding belief that the Saudi leadership partially financed this program during years of rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. After India’s tests in Rajasthan in May of 1998 official Islamabad received assistance from Saudi King, which promised daily supply of 50.000 barrels of oil for free to stabilize the economy in case of international sanctions. As a result, Saudi Arabia provided Pakistan with 3.5 billion dollars of oil on a preferential payment during 1998-2002 . In next 20 years this country hopes to satisfy 50 per cent of its energy needs thanks to nuclear power stations with 16 reactors, some of them – as a cover up for military program to be developed probably with Pakistani assistance .
Desert Kingdom with heavy consumption of “black gold” remains interested in nuclear power plants, but many observers believe, that the real aim of this program – to create counterweight against dangerous Iran. Saudi Arabia is concerned that the USA gradually loses interest in the Gulf and wants to be ready to protect itself on her own. Therefore both countries probably clandestinely agreed to conclude security pact against nuclear Iran.
Kingdom always had close relations with Pakistani Armed Forces and it was evident in the wake of the coup of Pervez Musharraf in 1999. But after victory in parliamentary elections of Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) in 2008 King Abdullah decided to distance himself from new political elite, represented by Ali Zardari and Raza Gilani. He suspected that new Pakistani President was a Shia and wanted to develop close relations with Iran by importing gas via land 1900-kilometer long pipeline, which could be extended northwards to China. Anxious to mend the ties, Ali Zardari supported efforts of Saudi Arabia and UAE to suppress Shia rebellion in Bahrain during Arab Spring by allowing recruiting former Pakistani soldiers to Bahraini security services. He also promised military assistance to Saudi Arabia in form of two Pakistani divisions to quell internal unrest .
Despite those steps King Abdullah abstained from any meaningful assistance to Pakistan during Ali Zardari’s tenure, making only exception for the devastating floods of 2010 and 2011, because those measures raised profile of the army, heavily involved in rescue operations. The monarch also was not in hurry to support Pak-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement, necessary to enhance export of Pakistani agricultural goods to the members of this organization. Today trade volume stands at 59 billion dollars, but sides are willing to increase it to 350 billion in 2020 .
New Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces hard choices after the victory of his Pakistani Muslim League-N (PML-N) in Parliamentary elections of 2013. First of all, this politician can be considered a trusted man of Saudi Arabia, because he spent 7 years in exile in Jeddah together with his numerous relatives. Military dictator Pervez Musharraf was persuaded by King not to persecute Sharif in 1999, but send him out of country, because Saudi Arabia threatened to cut supply of cheap oil .
Now Saudis expect a payback from a Prime Minister on Iranian front. For example, they want Sharif to abandon Iran-Pakistan pipeline and buy more oil from “Saudi Aramco”. But PML-N is not in hurry to do this, because severe electricity crisis only recently caused electoral defeat of their main rival – Pakistan People’s Party. Today Saudi Arabia promises to provide 100.000 barrels of crude oil and 15.000 tonnes of furnace oil on very cheap price that would give Pakistan three years to pay for the fuels, valued at $15 billion. This measure is intended to save time for Nawaz Sharif, who wants to go ahead with painful tax reform for all population (only 1.5 million Pakistanis today pay taxes) and to introduce new hydroelectricity power plants. But Pakistan is not ready to drop the project of the pipeline on its advanced stage with Iranian 900-km part of pipeline already completed and Pakistani 700-km streak under construction now .
Moreover, there are numerous reports that official Riyadh wants Pakistani experts to train Syrian rebels the art of war in order to organize solely Saudi-sponsored paramilitary units. King Abdullah demands that Nawaz Sharif should organize volunteers to fight Bashar al-Asad’s troops. The Kingdom has serious leverage against this South Asian country, because it hosts sizable Pakistani expat community, but so far deported 54 thousand of its representatives due to violation of visa regime . In order to make Pakistan more accommodating Kingdom provided it in 2014 with 1.5 billion dollars grant to support local rupee. Saudi Arabia also wants to invite seasoned Pakistani troops to patrol borders with Yemen, where Al-Qaeda is active. Pakistani-made under Chinese license shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank rockets can be provided to the Syrian opposition .
The trade between both sides is insignificant and hovers around 4-5 billion dollars. Major items of exports from Pakistan are textiles, leather goods, furniture, carpets and rugs, footwear, surgical goods, rice, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, biscuits, jams and juices. This South Asian country remains a top supplier of the rice and wheat to Saudi consumers from Indus valley region. Kingdom is about to abandon wheat production in 2016 because of high costs of water and to turn to import. Even today, when farms in the country still work, Saudi Arabia is considered the world’s largest buyer of grains and rice. Pakistan mainly gets petroleum products from this country, but the UAE remains principal competitor, because it owes one of the biggest refining complexes in Punjab − Pak-Arab Refinery (PARCO) with capacity of 100.000 barrels per day. The other items of import include petrochemicals, organic chemical products, plastics and fertilizers .
Saudi Arabia hosts the largest Pakistani community in the world, numbering 1.5 million people (mainly from province of Punjab – main stronghold of military) out of Pakistan’s 187 million population. Moreover, 200.000 Pakistani pilgrims perform Hajj and 500.000 – Umrah each year. “Сountry of the pure” has become a huge market for the Gulf monarchies looking to hire doctors, guards and taxi drivers – mainly contenders for low-paid jobs. Extension of facilities of Mecca and Madina has created opportunities for citizens of Pakistan to participate in construction works in accordance with the regulation that only Muslim workers are allowed in sacred cities of Islam . Pakistanis from the Gulf sent biggest share of remittances home (this amount almost equals the figures of bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia), because, unlike their former countrymen in the USA or Great Britain, they have families with many children to support.
Due to long-standing ties with official Islamabad Saudi Arabia was reluctant to recognize Bangladesh diplomatically in 1971 and did so after recognition of it by Pakistan and only after the assassination of the country’s first Prime Minister, pro-Indian politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. The new leadership, which was settled in Bangladesh following Mujibur's overthrow, distanced itself from former allies India and the Soviet Union, established Islam (under the rule of Hussain Muhammad Ershad) as the state religion and lifted a ban on activity of many Saudi-sponsored religious organizations. The military regimes of Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Muhammad Ershad took further steps to forge strong commercial and cultural ties with Saudi Arabia as a main donor of impoverished Muslim country with huge population. Since the late 1970-es the large number of both skilled and unskilled Bangladeshi workers moved to the Kingdom as blue-collar workforce.
After that Bangladesh became one of the largest suppliers of human recourses to Saudi Arabia, in 2007 her workers obtained the biggest share (23.50 per cent) of the 1.5 million Saudi Arabia yearly jobs visas. The number of Bangladeshis living in Kingdom today exceeds 1.5 million people as well . A large number of Muslim religious students and clerics also regularly travel to Saudi Arabia for study and religious work. As one of the most populous Muslim countries, Bangladesh is a major source of Hajj pilgrims. Saudi Arabia in turn has become a provider of financing and economic aid to official Dhaka in order to demonstrate to Muslim world solidarity.
Despite constant economic aid after floodings and typhoons (especially lavish volumes were distributed in 2007 and 2009 in form of dates, shoes, blankets and free gasoline), Kingdom usually was biased and supported the politician from Nationalist party Zia Khaleda, that ruled Bangladesh in alliance with Islamist parties, simultaneously maintaining cold relations with secular Awami League and her leader Sheikh Hasina. It is widely believed that the Saudis funded religious parties along with net of madrasah in Bangladesh and condemned the crackdown on them, initiated by secular government.
The current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared her willingness to return secular Constitution of 1972, what caused negative response from Kingdom. Moreover, in order to raise political profile and compromise opposition, her regime organized a number of trails against Jamaat-e-Islami leadership, which supported Pakistan during the civil war of 1971 by creation of paramilitary squadrons of Razakars – volunteers that killed Pro-independence journalists, students and politicians .
After such actions political contacts with Saudi Arabia’s officials at the highest level were diminished for almost five years. The first meeting of state leaders took place on March 26, 2013 when King Abdullah invited Sheikh Hasina to pay a visit.
However, this meeting didn’t improve bilateral relations considerably. Despite the fact, that in 2012 Bangladesh received 3.7 billion dollars as a remittances from Saudi Arabia, where huge number of citizens of this country temporary work, they usually face bad treatment from the hosts. In 2011 eight Bangladeshis were publicly beheaded for their alleged involvement in an armed robbery. One year later Saudi diplomkat was shot dead in Dhaka, which led to further deterioration in relations. Blue-collar workers can be easily substituted due to their low qualification, so Saudi employers usually abuse them without a second thought.
Moreover, many of those people are persecuted for the crimes they did not commit in order to improve deplorable statistics of law-enforcing agencies. Finally, in 2008 Riyadh decided to abandon the recruitment of workers from Bangladesh. In four years after this the representatives of Bangladesh Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment and Foreign Ministers visited Saudi Arabia to lift the ban, but the recruitment was resumed in full scale only in September 2013, after Bangladesh has pledged that it would not export nationals with criminal backgrounds to the Kingdom .
Also, in spite of tensions in political relations, the cooperation between the two countries in economic field has developed substantially. According to latest statistics, in 2013 Bangladesh exported to the Kingdom ready-made garments and frozen food to the tune of 214 million dollars . The Kingdom is considering big investments in Bangladesh’s agriculture industry, particularly in hybrid rice production. This idea corresponds with the aims of King Abdullah’s Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad – in Eastern Africa, South Asia and Europe.
Nevertheless, official Dhaka also needs investments in other sectors of its economy, considering the fact that during last several years it recorded an annual growth rate of over six per cent. The government is determined to further increase growth until 2021 and sustain it thereafter to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country. In order to achieve this goal and support economic development Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to privatize most of the state-owned enterprises and strived to use unique strategic location of the country between South and Southeast Asia and physical proximity to China as an economic hub of the region . That is why she courts Saudi investments is transport infrastructure, power generation and tourism.
However, the main aim of Bangladeshi government is to send more young manpower to Kingdom and to buy oil at preferential prices. In this context is especially important that around 750 thousand Bangladeshi migrant workers have benefited from an amnesty offer for illegal alliens, declared by Saudi authorities in the autumn 2013. Of the beneficiaries, about 400 thousand undocumented workers’ passports were renewed and issued while around 350 thousand workers, who were at the risk of becoming undocumented, were able to change their professions. Earlier the workers were not authorized to do it . This amnesty and previous Bangladeshis recruitment ban lift is a result of rapprochement between both countries. In 2014 more than 100 thousand pilgrims from Bangladesh will perform haj .
As a conclusion it’s necessary to say that South Asian countries play the crucial role in foreign, economic and security policy of Saudi Arabia. Huge Muslim community became the main aim of Riyadh's influence in the region and the cheap workforce supplier to the Kingdom's economy. It also gets additional boost through thousands of hundreds of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pilgrims to Hajj and Umrah. South Asian Muslim are important in the KSA's struggle for the absolute leadership in the Muslim world. Pakistan is considered a guarantor of Saudi Arabia's national security through powerful armed forces with “the first Muslim nuclear bomb”. On the other hand, rapid development of India’s economy and its considerable oil purchases in Iran force official Riyadh to pay close attention to this giant country and entice it with oil, gas and petrochemicals deals in order to weaken its main Middle East rival. So, South Asian region plays and in a long-term perspective will play increasingly prominent role in the Saudi Arabia's policy around the world.
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